Informant: How did the Ragger Program come about? Am I allowed to know?
Interviewer: Yes of course. So . . . they would always have game and competitions at Y-Camp, that was the big thing at the end of the week to always have competitions- cabin competitions, to see who’s the best cabin or who’s the best . . you know . . swimming, hiking, stuff on the lake. And one year there was this one kid that went to camp . . . and I guess . . . was he in a wheel chair? Yeah. And he just had great camp spirit. He couldn’t participate in any of the games but he was the greatest camper up there. So one day they tied a plain bandana around his neck as a surprise for him because he was such a great kid . . great camper and that’s how the Ragger Program started.
Interviewer: So is that unique to Ta Ta Pochon?
Informant: No. It’s unique to the YMCA program, so that’s all across the nation and the world
Interviewer: What the process for getting a rag?
Informant: The rag is just an outward sign of your inward challenges. Okay. That’s what it is and its all personal challenges that you’re making to become a better person and you have different levels of the rag. You start with a blue rag and when you’re 12-years old you can get a blue rag. Before that you can get what’s called leathers. So you can start as a little kid and you can get your leathers but it’s not as elaborate. You just make challenges for yourself; to be a better person, a better friend . . . I don’t know. And so for like the blue rag, I don’t know what the first [challenge] is, but it’s like service to others or service to God. It’s personal goals that you should reach yourself. If you think you’ve reached it, then the next year you can go on to the next one. The next one is silver. Which is specific to some other challenge. You make the challenge, the rag challenge, and then you also make an inner challenge so that you can go on the next year. Some people, some years say, “you know what, I’m not ready to move on”. The highest rag is the white rag and we say that those people walk on water. I never got my white rag because I don’t walk on water. The youngest you can get a white rage is 21.
Interviewer: Who decides who gets a white rag?
Informant: You do, but you have to have somebody tie your rag and if that person doesn’t feel that you’re ready, they can say that, “I’m not going to tie your rag”. So with the raggers someone can say, “I don’t feel comfortable tying your next rag, I think you’re too young, I think you’re just doing it because they status etc.”. Most of the time people take it a little more seriously. Most people say, “I’m not ready to go on to my next rag yet, I think I want to kind stay here”. I stopped at gold. Because when you stop going to camp . . .
Interviewer: How far is that?
Informant: It’s blue, silver, brown, gold and then you have red, purple, white. A lot of people stop at their purples and they are people who have been doing camp for twenty years and they’ll stop at their purples. I have known some people who have gotten their white rags at 22 years old, not too many though, not too many
So that the number one . . . that’s a tradition, and that’s not just specific to Ta Ta Pochon.
The story is interesting in that one tradition, from one story, at one camp, has come to influence the YMCA camp tradition of the entire world, which in turn has sparked the use of an international folk object in the form of the rag. Because of the story and the meaning behind it, the rag has come to have more emotional worth than its actual monetary worth; it’s value comes from the tradition of the Ragger Program. Additionally, upon further research I have discovered that there is no one single “Ragger Program” website with which to reference, so each camp has their own individual portion on their websites, which had made for many variations. So aside from the folk object itself, the origin story has become legendary, and thus also folklore.
For a different version of the origin story see: http://ymcablueridgeassembly.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/the-story-of-the-rag/